Disclaimer: please do not confuse the following metaphor (created by a confused writer while mulling over a batch of banana pancakes) with real life, as it may be detrimental to your grades and therefore your graduation from Cal Poly.
Imagine if you will that a professor proposed an intriguing grading system. In it, the midterms are worth 25 percent of your grade, and the final is worth 75 percent. In addition, the difficulty of the final is based on your performance on the last midterm. Those that fail will be given a mind-numbingly-easy final, while those that pass will get a horrifyingly difficult final; both count the same. How would you approach your final midterm? Would you not tank it in order to set yourself up for the easy final and an easy A?
The Los Angeles Clipper and the Memphis Grizzlies found themselves in just such a situation on Tuesday. The winner would face one of the best teams in the NBA in the first round of the playoffs, while the loser would face a team with a worse record than their own.
As a result, both teams mysteriously sat and “rested” key players to aid in their mission to lose. The Clippers never even played Sam Cassell or Chris Kaman, and the Grizzlies mysteriously put their all-star Pau Gasol on the inactive list with a sore left foot. This may have been less obvious than say, handing the ball to the other team, but it was equally as effective. However, I would much rather have seen Cassell and Gasol play hot potato with the basketball at center court, but some things are not meant to be.
In the end, the Clippers ended up “out-losing” the Grizzlies to secure the sixth seed in the playoffs. As a result, they (with a 47-35 record) will play the third seeded Denver Nuggets (with a 44-38 record) and enjoy home court advantage because of their superior record to the Nuggets. The Grizzlies (49-33 overall) ended up with the fifth seed, and will play the fourth seeded Dallas Mavericks (60-22).
The Clippers, having finished the season with a worse record (and having lost five of their last eight games) will host a team ” the Nuggets ” with a record equal to the eighth seeded Sacramento Kings (also 44-38). The ill-fated Grizzlies with a better record (who went 8-1 in their last nine games) will play the team with the third best record in the entire NBA. Sense some injustice?
Normally, I would support teams when they use less than honorable tactics to secure victory. When a team uses the “Hack-a-Shaq” defense to exploit his free throw shooting, it’s strategy, not cheating. If a team clings to a lead in the NFL by endlessly running the ball, it’s a battle of wills, just another part of the game. When a pitcher intentionally walks Barry Bonds to a chorus of chicken clucks, he’s doing it in the best interests of his team.
No one wants to give up a moon shot to Barry Bonds that would end up shattering the stadium lights like Robert Redford in The Natural. The end result would be the lead story on Sportscenter, featuring the glittering glass bulbs raining down from the heavens as the video cuts to a shot of the pitcher looking like his nostrils just caught a whiff of Brian Fantana’s favorite animal-based cologne. Speaking of good ole’ Bonds, he has yet to send a sphere sailing into the stratosphere that ended up in the cheap seats this season. Perhaps he should take a cue from Redford and craft his next bat out of a tree struck by lightning. Its hidden electrical powers are guaranteed to produce a home run. In fact, I’ve heard that 60 percent of the time, it works every time.
On another side note: I’ve now managed to mention Barry Bonds in two straight columns, even though he hasn’t done anything noteworthy on a baseball diamond. I’ve become a part of the media hype that I hate. Perhaps I can take solace in the fact that this column is not read nearly enough to contribute to said hype. Wait, no, that doesn’t help. Where did I put my Steelers Super Bowl DVD? Ah yes, that’s better.
But back to my point; the goal of all of those cowardly strategies is to win the game, whereas the Clippers and Grizzlies goal was to lose the game. Now, I understand that it can be argued that their efforts to lose were based, in a larger context, on their goal of winning a championship. There is little doubt that by losing, the Clippers have given themselves better odds of winning the NBA Championship, or at least advancing to the second round of the playoffs.
Inevitably, in every sport with a playoff system, there is a sort of “calm before the storm” as the best teams take advantage of their sizeable leads to rest their players and put themselves in position to make a deep run into the playoffs. For example, this year, the Pistons’ right to rest players and therefore “throw away” games was earned by their previous success. You cannot get around the fact that the Clippers are being rewarded for their lack of success.
The system is broken, and it doesn’t even require a complicated solution. A move by David Stern and the NBA to simply order the seeds in the playoffs by best win/loss record would cause less controversy than his push to ban tights next season. Which, by the way, I fully support: this fad has to be squelched. Sure, it’s just a few NBA superstars now (Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, etc.) but how long before this hits the mainstream? No one wants to see elementary students trying to emulate Kobe by wearing purple tights to the schoolyard. Just think of all the scaring memories they can be saved from – ban tights ” do it for the children.
In the meantime, the system remains needless complicated, and the Clippers will play the Nuggets, starting Saturday. Perhaps destiny specifically developed this ill-conceived playoff seeding policy to benefit one of the worst franchises in all of sports. But someone I find it more likely that the negative karma from throwing the game will have “the other team from Los Angeles” spending most of May where they usually do: at home.
Bradford Applin is a sophomore journalism major. His column is taking a week off from the paper in order to set itself up for an easy first round match-up next week. E-mail him at email@example.com